Friday, December 3, 2010

still crazy after all these years

Hot and sweaty takes on a whole new meaning when you’re facing menopause. 

Why’s it called that, anyways?  What do “men” have to do with menopause, or menstruation?  What do they know about having their entire bodily chemistry change entirely, twice in a lifetime, like salmon who swim out at sea and then return to face their imminent demise?  All they know, typically, is that we’re “bitchy.”  Well let me tell you, dude, if we’re bitchy it’s for a damned good reason.  Not only do we go through this incredible transformation without any significant cultural support or understanding, we have to credit “men” when we discuss it (in hushed tones, so as not to admit our age and vulnerability).

Yesterday I spoke with an elder woman (loudly and proudly) who experienced these night sweats and hot flashes for fifteen years.  Fifteen years !!!  I can trace the beginnings of my own personal transformation back about six or seven years, I remember that the time shift for the dispersal of the monthly eggs freaked me right out.  I had no idea that a person in their early 40s would begin to experience symptoms, I had no idea what the symptoms would be.  I was certain that this was the first sign that the apocalypse must surely be nigh.

I didn’t start this blog entry intending to give voice to the nightly puddles of sweat I awaken to, or the waves of intense heat that pour over my body, and my sudden insight into why men go all “midlife crisis” rather than help change the sheets several times a night.  I began writing today because I felt compelled to share some insight into mental health and street issues, something else I discussed with my friend yesterday.

We were talking about the escalating poverty and homelessness in our town, and my friend suggested that a lot of homeless people suffer from mental illness.  If only they had the proper resources, including housing, perhaps they wouldn’t be on the streets.  People often say those words, “mental illness,” when talking about the street community, and I don’t often enough stop them and offer an opportunity to think about what that really means.

In my view, it’s people like Stephen Harper and John McCain who are mentally ill.  People who think that life can just go on as it has been, that the industrial revolution can just continue to ravage the planet, that capitalism can run rampant with its “everything has a pricetag” philosophy and its need to keep the rich rich and the poor enslaved.  That we can just drill the tar sands and ship the oil through an ancient rainforest to a ragged coastline without any possible negative repercussions. 

The people who think that “power” is about building ever more weapons to defend their own status and position in the world, who go about their daily lives as if there is no climate crisis, pretending that we live in a “free market” where everyone has equal opportunity …. these are the ones suffering from mental illness.  The people on the street are actually the sane ones, I suggested, they’re the ones who don’t fit into the capitalist model of death and destruction.  They’re the ones who can’t or won’t do the dirty work of building bombs or going to war or serving up fast food death for slave wages. 

This is generalizing, of course.  There are people who will self-define as schizophrenic, or bi-polar, or whatever label the big pharma inspired “doctors” chose from their big book of “everyone is insane.”  Seriously, they have a massive big book with all kinds of “illnesses” defined and ready to slap on every last one of us.  And not single one called “if you think I’m a pessimist you’re just not paying attention,” which is really what’s going on. 

People who aren’t considered “successful” - because they don’t have a house and a mortgage and a stressful job they hate – are simply dismissed by the dominant culture.  Some of us manage to live our values, which includes no desire to be ultra-wealthy so we can lord it over our brothers and sisters, but it’s definitely getting more and more difficult.  Food prices increase, new taxes put small luxuries like theatre and community centres out of reach, rent goes up the obligatory 4% a year whether the building owners need it or not. 

Plus, I mentioned to my friend who had indicated her understanding, in tribal societies the people who were considered “different” were sometimes discovered to be inspired artists and musicians, healers, shaman.  Shawomen.  Maybe there’s a significant proportion of the street community who are simply misunderstood, who simply can’t fit into the dominant culture, who are talented in ways people don’t or can’t appreciate or support.

And then last night, during one of several sweaty interruptions to my sleep, the words “culture of dependence” were found in my sleepy mind.  That’s what poverty and homelessness create ….  a culture of dependence.  The friendly charity minded people with their food banks and soup kitchens encourage it.   The structural institutions with their homeless shelters and social workers and mental health facilities create it, not only for their ‘clients,’ but for all those who find employment building and sustaining it. 

Of course we’d be a lot worse off without the structural and charitable responses.  We’re currently fighting to keep winter shelters open every night, and not just on sub-zero nights.  But ultimately, is it possible to imagine a fundamental paradigm shift so none of that is necessary?  Is it possible to consider a world beyond this patriarchal mess?

When white colonists arrived on this land they found people who lived in structures they had built themselves without the assistance of real estate agents or banks or mortgages.  Those who cling desperately to the sinking ship of capitalism despise the idea of homeless people constructing their own tent cities, or heaven forbid shelters made of reclaimed materials, or even sleeping in the daytime under cover.  They hate the idea of self autonomy as much as they hated those indigenous people who were swiftly murdered or enslaved when they refused to assimilate.

It’s about freedom.  True freedom.  Not the freedom associated with the ability to go into debt - to some corporate entity whose executives earn way more money than they’re worth - so you can live in a box on stolen native land.  I don’t know that we can return to the type of freedom indigenous people enjoyed but one day, if the tsunami happens, we may all find ourselves outside trying to learn how to live in tents.  And then we’ll turn to that street community, who knows survival like nobody else on the planet, and plead for their assistance.

Until then I’ll wonder how any middle aged woman can survive this miraculous transformation without the luxury of a roof overhead and the opportunity to shower and launder away the sweaty nights.  And heaven help those who catch a flu bug on top of it, how do they survive outside?  I guess that’s why they die …. an average of two homeless people each week in our little town.

They call it civilization.  And they say we’re nuts because we don’t fit in.  As the next wave of unutterable heat engulfs my body, as the last of my eggs leaves its warm nest, I breathe a sigh of relief that I won’t be birthing any more crazy victims into this earthly trap.  No kids of mine will be killing or dying for corporate interests.  Phew.